Yorkshire. A beautiful place, full of hills and vales
and fantastic roads. Locals claim it as God’s own country,
and if they’re right it must be yet more evidence that
He is a biker. With plenty of open spaces away from the restrictions
enforced by the urban build up further south, the combination
of wide sweeping bends and tight interesting nadgery bits
has proven irresistible to the likes of you and me for years.
It’ll come as no surprise to hear that
with relations between the locals – both residents and
police – and the throngs of bikers who migrate to the
area every sunny weekend and evening are somewhat strained
on occasions. Many of the locals – Yorkshire folk are
nothing if not business savvy – welcome the influx of
potential customers. But many others, who are often, in fact,
visitors to the area themselves, find cause to complain about
people enjoying themselves in a way of which they do no personally
approve. The police on the whole adopt a pretty sensible attitude
towards the whole thing. North Yorkshire pioneered the Bikesafe
campaign so are certainly forward thinking in their approach
to bike policing.
But recently things have happened that have
changed this. First of all the volume of complaints has risen.
This, it would seem, is not solely down to a mass visit by
‘Angry of Tunbridge Wells’ but can be laid at
least partly at the feet of those of us who insist on riding
flat out in the wrong places and fitting race cans before
doing so. We may make more noise than the complainers but
they make it more effectively.
The other problem is a little more serious.
Well, rather a lot more, actually. 28 riders lost their lives
in North Yorkshire last year, 23 the year before. But only
15 in 2001. It’s not all down to idiot drivers failing
to see large, brightly coloured motorcycles either, although
as always that is a contributory factor. No, a good proportion
of the fatalities on North Yorkshire roads (and everywhere
else, if we are going to be completely honest about it) are
down to motorcyclists misjudging their abilities and paying
North Yorkshire, as we've said before, pioneered
BikeSafe, and we think that is a Good Thing. This is what
they have to say about it:
road deaths generally have tended to fall, there has
been an increase in the number of motorcyclists killed in
road accidents – an increase that has coincided with
the rapid growth in the sales of high-performance machines.
180mph bikes are now available for the price of a small car,
and their performance can massively outstrip the abilities
of those who have learned riding on very different machinery.
Particularly vulnerable have been “born-again”
bikers – riders returning to motorcycling years after
learning to ride. Road-rusty, they can afford to buy and insure
sports bikes with performance vastly greater than that of
the machines they learned on.
The force developed Bike Safe, which has been endorsed nationally
by the Association of Chief Police Officers as “best
practice” and has been taken up by many other forces.
The scheme has won the Prince Michael of Kent National Road
Bike Safe is based on
- promoting advanced riding education, combined with targeted
enforcement of the laws governing dangerous or anti-social
- involving riders and their interest groups in the policy-making
- working in partnership with local authorities, the motorcycle
industry, dealers and the community"
there. This is proactive (God I hate that word) policing
at its best - police working with road users to reduce accidents.
Let's look at the next bit of the press release, though.
"This year North Yorkshire officers have shifted the
Bike Safe emphasis in response to another trend: anti-social
behaviour, especially among younger riders.
The policing emphasis has shifted
more towards enforcement and a harder line that is
being adopted towards speeders, racers, white-liners, wheely
show-offs and others whose anti-social behaviour spoils the
quality of our residents’ lives – including those
who fit ear-splitting racing exhausts to their machines.
At the same time the force is strongly reinforcing the message
to other road users that they need to be aware of the vulnerability
of motorcyclists; by no means all motorcyclist deaths are
the fault of the rider involved."
Now this rang a few alarm bells, especially
when combined with a few other quotes I heard about this scheme.
It has been suggested that bikers caught speeding in North
Yorkshire can expect to be fast tracked through the courts
and banned, regardless of the number of points on their licences.
Yes, they can do this. It has been suggested that David Collins,
the Yorkshire Assistant Chief Constable responsible for traffic,
believes that anyone who fits an aftermarket exhaust probably
warrants police attention for other reasons as well. His words,
not mine. The phrase "lifestyle criminal" came in
there somewhere as well.
The trouble is, the last part of the message
- about educating other road users and the fact that not all
accidents are the rider's fault - will get lost in the inevitable
storm of protest about ACC Collins' other comments.
So I rang North
Yorks Police. After all, we all know that journalists
misquote and distort things, right? Tony Lidgate is their
Press Officer. I'll say one thing for North Yorkshire Police.
They're pretty upfront about things. I asked Tony about what
ACC Collins is quoted as saying. He called me back a few minutes
later and confirmed that yes, he had said that and yes, he
stands by it. Well, fair play to the guy for having the guts
to stand by his principles rather than being a politician
and saying what he thinks people want to hear. We then had
a lengthy chat about numbers, causes, trends and so on. Because
a jump in fatalities of over 100% in 2 years can't be acceptable
to anyone, and if we think that it'll go un-noticed then we're
living in cloud cuckoo land.
So what's so special about North Yorkshire?
Well, lots of people visit, the scenery is very nice and the
roads are challenging. Now let's look at it from a biking
point of view. Lots of bikers are there so the chances of
getting sucked into going faster than you want are quite high.
Plus lots of other traffic means people going for dodgy overtakes,
perhaps. That interesting scenery is edged with drystone walls.
About as unforgiving as you get. And challenging roads mean
there are plenty of opportunities for investigating that scenery.
Assuming you don't hit something coming the other way first,
So we can see why North Yorkshire may have
more than it's fair share of road accidents, bike and car.
Trouble is, nobody knows why bike fatalities nearly doubled
I'm not going to make any closing statements.
The facts are before you and you should act on them as you
see fit. If you want to object to North Yorks policies, e-mail
us or use the forum and I'll make sure Tony gets your comments.
Until then, I'll leave the last word to him. Be careful out
line is that there are so many factors behind the causes
of motorcycle deaths that it is perilous to try and find a
single headline reason. As I said before the mix includes
fashion, sales of certain kinds of bike, weather (especially)
and just plain bad luck. There have been no major changes
in policing or council policies, nor in the way the figures
are recorded. What ever the root causes of the rider casualties,
for North Yorkshire Police the cruel reality is that we have
to deal with the consequences of bad rider and driver behaviour;
we do our best to educate road users and try to persuade them
to drive or ride in a certain way, and we warn them of the
consequences if they pay no heed. But if they choose to ignore
our advice and warnings, then it's us that has to deal with
the horrible consequences and that is not a job we enjoy or